A glimpse into the enchanting Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland
uring a recent trip to the United States, we had the opportunity to explore Glenstone, a private contemporary art museum nestled in Potomac, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Washington DC. Our son, a resident of the area, was confident that his architect father, sister and artist mother would find the convergence of art, architecture and natural surroundings at this captivating indoor-outdoor museum truly enchanting. He was right. Upon our visit, we were utterly astounded. After all, how many art museums in the world can boast a sprawling 300-acre pastoral landscape as their canvas?
The beautiful landscape, designed by PWP Landscape Architecture, is punctuated with outdoor sculptures scattered throughout the picturesque rolling meadows and woodlands. It is noteworthy to mention that the project involved relocating two hundred mature trees to new spots on the site, complemented by an additional 1,800 trees nurtured in an on-site nursery.
Looming in the distance, a grand spectacle comes into view – Jeff Koons’s creation, the Split-Rocker. This monumental sculpture, born in the year 2000, marries the characteristics of a half-horse and half-dinosaur head, created with stainless steel, soil, and geotextile fabric, with an internal irrigation system and with live flowering plants. One is surrounded by meadows carpeted in wildflowers, beckoning forests and gentlu murmuring streams. It is interesting to contemplate how each passing season transforms this landscape as new outdoor sculptures emerge on the marked pathway that leads from the Arrival Hall into the heart of the museum grounds.
Glenstone operates with a timed ticketing system to ensure visitors have ample space for quiet contemplation. To ensure a deliberate and serene visitor experience, children under 12 are not permitted. Much of this tranquillity can be attributed to the layout design.
The Gallery, Glenstone’s inaugural structure designed by Charles Gwathmey of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates in 2006, gracefully blends with the landscape. In 2018, a minimalist expansion known as The Pavilions was seamlessly integrated into the environment, consisting of zinc, granite and stainless steel cubes of various dimensions, a creation by Thomas Phifer and Partners, an architecture firm. Spanning 204,000 square feet, this building also includes office spaces. The galleries are laid out around a tranquil and visually striking water court adorned with thriving lotuses and other aquatic plants.
It is housed in the first new construction on Glenstone since the opening of the Pavilions in 2018. It is the brainchild of none other than Richard Serra, an influential artist of his generation.
Inside the halls of The Pavilions, the art world’s luminaries grace the space – Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, to name just a few. Amidst this collection, a solitary piece commands attention: Collapse by Michael Heizer – a pioneer of the 1960s’ land art movement, holds its own spotlight. This singular creation resides within a room ensconced by the earth from which it emerges. There is, of course, the indomitable Robert Morris, a visionary in both land art and the foundational principles of minimalism. His work is a tapestry of gravel and glistening shards of glass weaves together fragments of the earth itself. In contrast, Collapse emerges as a weathering steel sculpture, comprising several beams arranged within and extending the boundaries of an earthen box, extending boldly into the open expanse of the sky. While we viewed it from the interior of The Pavilions, it exists in a realm open to the heavens, etching its presence into the fabric of the universe.
Another room beckons with the captivating presence of Barbara Kruger’s triptych, Untitled (Never Perfect Enough), a creation from 2020. Digital prints on vinyl catch my attention. Kruger rose to prominence in the vibrant 1980s. She deftly harnessed the visual vernacular of advertising, skillfully juxtaposing it with black-and-white found photographs. Her artistry unfolds through powerful graphics adorned with bold, unapologetic texts that shed light on the complexities of gender and power within the realm of media.
Compared with Return to the One from 2020, the life-size seated figure by Charles Ray, an intricately crafted, delicately fashioned self-portrait with handmade paper, a different sculpture takes centre stage in a separate building – a monumental creation of exceptional weight. It is housed in the first new construction on Glenstone since the opening of the Pavilions in 2018. It is the brainchild of none other than Richard Serra, an influential artist of his generation. Titled Four Rounds: Equal Weight, Unequal Measure, it was birthed in 2017. It is made up of four cylindrical forms forged from steel, each weighing a staggering 82 tonnes in weight, pushing the boundaries of what a foundry can forge. The textured patina bears witness to the rich imprints etched by the intense pressure of the forging process.
Amidst our immersive experience of awe-inspiring art and the natural beauty that surrounded us, we couldn’t help but continuously draw each other’s attention to the architectural wonders of the Pavilion building itself. The vastness of the property, the exquisite architectural design and the groundbreaking artworks harmoniously set against the backdrop of serene nature converge to create an indelible and remarkable experience at Glenstone Museum.
The writer is an author, illustrator and educator. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org